SCREEN DAILY: "TROUBLING" ; SALT LAKE TRIB: "LEAVES STOMACH IN KNOTS"
Amir Bar-Lev's documentary about the Penn State scandals premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, with Jerry Sandusky's adopted son, Matt, who appears in the film, appearing at the fest in support of Bar-Lev and the film. A review by Screen Daily's David D'Arcy calls the film "troubling," and suggests that it "should get strong play on cable sport channels." The Salt Lake Tribune's Brennan Smith states that the doc "takes the viewer back to the first time the story broke in 2011, complete with a mix of emotions that leaves the stomach in knots for the entirety of the 100-minute film." Smith adds, "The narrative is less about Sandusky and more about a framing of American and sports culture, where distraction trumps all and serious issues are swept under the rug."
D'Arcy describes the way the film captures events as they unfold at Penn State:
"Bar-Lev watches the university community witness news of Sandusky’s 2012 conviction on multiple counts of sexual abuse. Soon head football coach [Joe] Paterno (Sandusky’s boss), is sacked, along with the university president and other officials. The youth response on campus is a riot in which news trucks are overturned and property is destroyed.
"The mob reaction to disturbing news is at the core of Bar-Lev’s film, in which football fever fuels group fenzy in Happy Valley. Critics of Joe Paterno (nicknamed ‘JoePa’) are insulted and threatened when they express concerns publicly, as police stand by. This is extreme football fervor. It would be hard to find a Catholic congregation in the US that rallied behind a bishop who turned the other way after seeing evidence of sexual abuse. Football, as we see, is another story.
"Football as religion is a truism in the US. In Bar-Lev’s film, football as identity and profit takes over. The university searches for life beyond the revered Paterno, who dies in 2012 of a cancer that’s diagnosed the day after his firing. A popular statue of Paterno – a bronze figure of sports kitsch that was a tourist destination – is destroyed by the university, which also expunges the former coach’s name from the university’s history, like that of a purged Soviet official under Stalin. As the crowds pour back into the football stadium, Penn State is busy marketing a cult of personality for its new coach.
"Bar Lev’s scenes of crowd melees are frightening, but his film contains intimate poignant testimony that is equally troubling. Jerry Sandusky’s stoic adopted son, Matt, tells a sad story of growing up in the squalid digs of a desperately poor family and gravitating toward a program for poor boys headed by the coach, who gave the children food, gifts, and mandated sex."